As most UC Berkeley students wind down from finals week, the Cal women’s basketball team is heating up.
Fresh off of their highest-scoring game since 2015, the Bears will face Cal Poly in Haas Pavilion on Saturday. After its first rough stretch, Cal looks to continue the positive momentum against a team it is heavily favored to beat.
Last Saturday, the Bears dropped 102 points on McNeese State, a welcome sight after only scoring 67 against Arkansas the week before. The most notable difference between these two games was ball movement.
In Fayetteville, a disproportionate number of possessions ended in late-shot clock isolations for Cal. It was rarely able to collapse the defense and create open shots, leading to inefficient shot selection. Unless they were running in transition, the Bears almost never attacked the rim and ended with only 26 points in the paint.
That all changed last week when they scored a season-high 62 points down low, which was nearly as many points as the Bears’ total against McNeese State. The team clearly listened to head coach Charmin Smith’s post-game criticism the week before when she slammed her squad for not being decisive and being quick enough to react to the defense. After notching 13 assists against the Razorbacks, the Bears improved to 24 against the Cowgirls.
The Bears have seemingly found the style of offense that suits them best — unselfishness and speed that take advantage of any defensive mistake. Their backcourt of Leilani McIntosh and Jayda Curry exemplify this perfectly.
McIntosh is a phenomenal passer who is quick to recognize when the opposition leaves any of her teammates open. She showed that last week with a season-high nine assists against McNeese State. Meanwhile, Curry is able to punish defensive mistakes with her unparalleled scoring ability. If the defense goes under an on-ball screen, she’s quick and efficient in firing from three or midrange; if one of her teammates gets doubled in the paint, she quickly relocates to set herself up for a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer; and when the defenses get too worried about her shooting ability, she quickly catches them off guard and blows by them all the way to the basket.
Cal’s opposition has been heavily struggling this season. Cal Poly is 1-6, losing five of those games by double digits. It has also yet to win a game on the road — a massive disappointment for a team coming off of a 13-11 record the previous season. This is a pivotal game for the Mustangs, who are in the midst of a four-game losing streak and at risk of digging themselves into an unsalvageable hole. Saturday will be their final nonconference road game of the season, and it’s one they are desperate to win.
But despite the losing streak, Cal Poly is quietly building some momentum. On Monday against Northern Arizona, junior guard Maddie Vick tied her career high with 19 points. Remarkably, she wasn’t even the highest-scoring junior guard named Maddie, as her teammate Maddie Willett eclipsed her career high with 20 points. They had a shot to win that game, but ultimately fell 73-88 by allowing Northern Arizona to go on a 16-5 run in the third quarter.
Losing when multiple players had their best game of the season is a bitter pill for any team to swallow. The Mustangs will surely arrive at Haas Pavilion with a desire to make up for that blown opportunity. But if the Bears play like they did against McNeese State, they should be able to steer the Mustangs even further off course.
Casey Grae covers women’s basketball. Contact him at [email protected].